14 Rappers, 14 Countries for UNICEF: Where are the Women MCs?

by Tom Nguyen

Dear San E and UNICEF,

I was excited to discover your music video #HIPHOPISHIPHOP – Hip Hop for the World bringing together 14 rappers from 14 countries to express the unifying love of hip hop. I love that this video was made in the tradition of the iconic song We Are The World, to bring light on an important global issue: children’s access to education. Except for the venerable KRS-One, I love that I didn’t know any of the rappers. Thanks for giving talented rappers around the world a chance to shine!

Now, I ask…where are the women? I was quickly disappointed to see that out of 14 rappers, there was only one woman, YACKO from Indonesia. Why does this bother me? While every rapper in that video is talented and deserving and I applaud each of them, I have so many reasons for why this gender imbalance in your video upsets me.

Hip hop has historically been a very unfriendly and unfair place for women and it still remains so. Misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are big problems in hip hop songs, lyrics and culture. I’m afraid your video only reinforces the exclusion of women in hip hop. If We Are The World had better inclusion of women in 1985, I’m sure we can do better in 2015.

Since you are using hip hop as a platform for children’s education and your own statistics show that girls suffer greater disadvantage and exclusion from education in so many parts of the world, wouldn’t you have wanted to represent more women as role models? If you had included more women cyphers, I think your message would have been much more powerful and inspiring in your quest for gender equality in education.

After all, you released this video during Women’s History Month and right before International Women’s Day. I think you squandered a very good opportunity to not only address the inequality of access to education, but to also give strength to the message that the ones most affected by that inequality are girls around the world. You could have shown young girls everywhere that they have the same right and ability to succeed in any male-dominated space.

However, I have faith in an organization that is doing so much to achieve gender equality. We’re far from achieving equal human rights and opportunities for one half of the world’s population and it’s critical to keep empowering girls and women worldwide. There are no lack of girls and women on the front lines of society fighting for equality and freedom every day in every part of the world, and hip hop is no exception. In many countries, just being female, queer or trans in male-dominated hip hop is defiant and revolutionary. Below are just 14 of so many countless talented female, queer and trans rappers (in alphabetical order) who are not only rapping but doing so by challenging the status quo and giving voice to marginalized communities around the world. I hope you’ll consider them in a second hip hop video.

Tom Nguyen

Amanda NegraSim (Brazil) – Amanda NegraSim, grew up exposed to many genres of music and incorporates many styles and instruments with her hip hop. She’s also strongly political and actively involved in MSTC (Downtown Homeless Movement), a movement in Sao Paulo to raise awareness on the lack of housing for poor families, by organizing large mass squatting of empty urban buildings. She speaks about their largest project to house 300 homeless families in one building in the short Vincent Moon film below. (Honorable mention: Too many to list! We could do a whole list of bad ass Brazilian female rappers alone!) (Source: The Monitors)

Awich (Okinawa/Japan) – Awich, real name Akiko Urasaki, grew up accustomed to  ongoing protests for Okinawan independence from Japan, and removal of US military bases. She learned to speak English by listening to Tupac, and hopes to use her music to put Okinawan culture and issues on the global map! Her song In The Batte with singer MANAMI urges people to stand up in their pursuit of freedom. (Source: Vogue)

Belona MC (Chile) – Her Facebook page proclaims, “A la lucha! Ni Capitalismo! Ni Patriarchado!” A college student, painter, writer, Belona started writing rhymes at 13, released her defiant debut album Libres y Salvajes (Free and Wild) at 17, and continues rapping about the injustices she sees in everyday life in her latest album Dignidad Rebelde (Rebel Dignity).

Gabylonia (Venezuela) – Rapping about socially conscious issues from Caracas, Gabylonia’s latest track Abuso de Poder (Abuse of Power) is a call to action against government abuse. She has a huge Twitter fanbase and recently gained wide attention throughout Latin America, with the Latin Grammy nomination of Somos, a song by Jarabe de Palo featuring her lyrical talent.

Las Krudas (Cuba/US) – Black, queer, feminist and proud, Las Krudas are fierce and tireless advocates for the marginalized in Cuba’s society. Since 1996, when they formed the first queer art group Cubensi in Havana, they’ve been constantly challenging and criticizing the paternalism and machismo of a society that renders voices and views like theirs invisible. Now based in Texas, they continue their activist music, poetry and theater performance.

Mare Advertencia Lirika (Mexico) – Mare Advertencia Lirika is a Zapotec rapper from Oaxaca, Mexico who raps about many social justice issues affecting her as a woman and as an indigenous person in Mexico. She most recently collaborated with Quimono on the song Devuelvanmelas (Give them back) to highlight the high rates of violence and forced disappearance of women, particularly from indigenous communities. (Source: Feministing)

Paradise Sorouri (Afghanistan) – Paradise Sorouri and her fiance Diverse form the duo 143Band. Both born to exiled families who returned to Afghanistan, they met in university and rap about issues like women’s rights and the importance of education for girls, topics that make them targets in their country. Honorable mention: Soosan Firooz also grew up in exile and also faces death threats for rapping about the situation of Afghani women. (Source: Jezebel)

Rebeca Lane (Guatemala) – Kimberly Bautista, director of Justice for My Sister, recently introduced me to Rebeca Lane, self-proclaimed “Raperra TRANS antarquisa (Trans anarchist rapper)! She is a strong activist with her music, poetry and radio program, and formed Somos Guerreras, an all-female hip hop collective. She recently released her lastest album Poesia Venenosa (Poisonous Poetry).

Ruby Ibarra (Philippines/US) – The Filipino rap game is strong and there’s no one like Ruby Ibarra putting a fresh, sharp spin on revolution and rap! Her biting lyrics on her immigrant experience and challenging systems of oppression speak powerful truth. While the hip hop industry tries to hypersexualize every female rapper, the socially conscious rapper refuses to play that game and walks to her own defiant beat. (Honorable mention: Another strong activist rapper Invincible, from Detroit with early childhood in Israel, has always been a strong social justice advocate in both their music and their work in the community. Their video Ropes to raise awareness on mental illness was banned by MTV in 2010 for being “too problematic”.) (Source: OZY)

Shadia Mansour (UK/Palestine) – Long before appearing on her friend and fellow venerable activist Ana Tijoux’s Somos Sur, Shadia Mansour, dubbed “the first lady of Arabic hip hop”, has been working tirelessly since 2003 in her activism and advocacy for Palestine and actively expresses her views on her Facebook page. She considers herself part of “a musical intifada, a musical uprising” and her protests are not only directed at Israeli occupation, but also just as strongly and defiantly towards the conservative elements in Palestinian society that treat women unequally. (Honorable mention: Soultana formed Morocco’s first all-female hip hop group Tigresse Flow and raps about women’s rights, violence, unemployment and other issues affecting the youth. Her song Sawt Nssa (Women’s Voices) is her anthem for the struggles of women in her country.)

Silvana Imam (Sweden) – Imam, a feminist, lesbian, anti-racist rapper who was born in Sweden to a Lithuanian mother and Syrian father, has been making waves there over the past few years for her uncompromising lyrics. In a country where neo-Nazi and xenophobic attitudes are on the rise, she says, “I’m a conscious rapper. I write songs about my life, and since I write through a lesbian-immigrant-woman’s perspective, it’s labeled as “political.” I’m letting people know how fucked up the world is through my art. This is about my life and my own survival in this patriarchal and anti-democratic world. A woman who writes love songs to other women causes immediate chaos in most peoples’ minds? That is something you should question. and not whether I’m political or not.” (Source: VICE)

Suboi (Vietnam) – Suboi learned English by listening to rap artists like Eminem and is a star in the hip hop scene in Vietnam, where her generation is subtly challenging and questioning its conservative values. Suboi is used to flying under the radar, using coded lyrics and double meanings to not offend nor risk censorship. She also raps about taboo issues like domestic violence, which she suffered in a previous relationship and wants to empower other young Vietnamese women not to tolerate abuse. She’ll perform at SXSW on her first US tour. (Honorable mention: Lisha has been influential in the vibrant Cambodian hip hop scene since 2002 and was part of the global OneBeat initiative in 2012.) (Sources: National Multimedia, Mujestic)

Titica (Angola) – Transsexual artist Titica is shattering stereotypes and winning people over with her infectious “kuduro”, Angola’s unique urban rap-techno fusion. Living in a conservative country where homosexuality is punishable with hard labor and surrounded by countries with even harsher attitudes and penalties, Titica is bravely unashamed and unabashed about her trans-sexuality and a bright defiant light against homophobia and transphobia. UNAIDS appointed her as a Goodwill Ambassador in 2013. (Source: BBC)

Toussa Senerap (Senegal) – Ethnomusicologists trace the roots of rap to West Africa’s griot storytelling tradition and that’s where you’ll find Toussa, a lone rising female voice in the male-dominated Senegalese hip hop scene, who dropped her first single at age 13. She’s since performed in many national competitions, toured eastern US, founded an all-female hip hop collective GOTAL (which means “unity” in Wolof) and started her own recording studio, RockTeam Musik, run by and for women, with workshops about the role of women in society and hip hop. (Source: Daily News)

(Update 03/16/15: I had assumed incorrectly that UNICEF was the organization behind the video, however soon after publishing, I discovered that the video was initiated by San E and the beneficiary of the project is UNICEF. As I feel the video still portrays a lack of inclusion of women for a cause that disproportionately affects women, my feelings still stand and I’ve added San E to whom I’m addressing in this open letter.)

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4 Replies to “14 Rappers, 14 Countries for UNICEF: Where are the Women MCs?”

  1. Pingback: Enclave Los Angeles: 14 RAPPERS, 14 PAÍSES PARA A UNICEF – ONDE ESTÃO AS MULHERES MCs? | Amanda Negrasim

    • Thank you so much! I just noticed you’re in Boyle Heights just blocks from where I live! I’ll have to stop by your gallery some time soon!

  2. Pingback: Exclusive: La Mala Rodriguez on being True as an Artist, Defying Labels and her Love for FEMEN | EnClave LA

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